An individual who hasn’t heard the news reports on Anthony Weiner by now would have to be living under a rock. However, there may be large numbers of people unaware of what may be considered an epidemic in what has become known as sexting.
According to an article in Safety Web, Sexting 101 – Guide for Parents, “39% of teens and 59% of young adults have sent or posted sexually suggestive emails or text messages, and 20% of teens and 33% of young adults have sent/posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves.” It doesn’t stop there, “38% teens and 46% of young adults say it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.”
This information might seem shocking, or it may not, depending on a person’s personal value system. For a person with a religious derived moral value system, sending a naked photo of one’s self might indicate impulsivity, a moment of weakness, or lack of judgment because the potential consequences for such an action may not be completely thought through and the action violates a standard of behavior. Faced with such a decision, that person might also take into consideration whether a family member would feel ashamed or hurt if the act was publicly exposed (pardon the pun), whether reputations could be damaged, or how it might feel if positions were reversed, before acting out.
On the other hand, a moral relativist might gage an action by questioning whether anyone will be physically hurt by a behavior, or if the behavior is illegal. These are the standards by which to judge an action and if these answers are negative, then such actions are likely irrelevant if made public, unless the person is in the public eye and the exposure could damage the public persona.
This notion of moral relativism is really at the heart of the Weiner scandal because, in Anthony Weiner’s case (as described by Mr. Weiner), this incident was consensual and between two adults. This distinction matters for two reasons. First, there really is no difference between opening up your raincoat and exposing your junk to a stranger and sending a nude photo of your junk to a random recipient, if you really think about it. In both situations, a person could be cited for public indecency. Second, there is precedent in court decisions that have ruled to respect the privacy of what one adult does with another consenting adult. Had a minor been involved in this consensual act, the story might have a very different ending.
In The New York Times, Jan Hoffman writes, in A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives, “Around the country, law enforcement officials and educators are struggling with how to confront minors who sext.” When a teenager is involved, the act could bring pornography charges. Though such charges are probably over the top, at issue is the mixed message teenagers are given about sex given these conflicting value systems. No matter how you slice it, these two ways for organizing the way you see the world are at odds with each other. Moral values are normally associated with religious doctrine and relativism is usually associated with atheism. They are both legitimate belief systems. And both belief systems are competing in the public sector to influence or gain adherents.
Moral Relativists preach tolerance yet practice intolerance of those who do not accept their beliefs. Those whose morality requires intimate sexual acts take place between a man and a woman and that consensual sex should take place within marriage are being forced to yield to a moral relativist ideological agenda in the public domain. Moral relativism is encouraged while moral values held by those practicing Judeo/Christian religions are discouraged, painted as intolerant, prejudiced, or prudish. Though the 1st Amendment says Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of, the moral relativist belief system is gaining ground at the expense of Judeo/Christian derived moral value system.
So, the issue is not whether Mr. Weiner committed an illegal act, it is whether the act was morally reprehensible to enough constituents to ensure his resignation or prevent his being elected for another term. If he wants to take responsibility for his actions, as he claims, one has to ask, responsibility for what and to whom? There is supposed to be a trust between constituents and their elected officials. Mr. Weiner broke that trust, not necessarily by texting, which was incredibly bad judgment on his part. It was by lying about the incident, repeatedly. Is that the kind of person who should be elected to office?
Out of the mouth of babes, a middle schooler who sexted a naked photo of herself to her new boy friend, who in turn forwarded it to a former friend of the girl, who then texted it to all her friends telling them to text it to their friends if they agreed she was a whore, with the photo eventually going viral, had the following advice, “if you are even considering doing such a thing, ask yourself, ’what are you thinking? It’s freaking stupid!’”
Generations of teenagers bombarded by sexual images, have been experimenting with sexual behavior, with the understanding that if it’s not hurting anyone or illegal, it’s okay. Instead, they are taught the practical consequences of impulsive actions; AIDS, STDs, pregnancy. Many kids cannot reconcile these two competing value systems and are not mature enough to navigate them unscathed. To address the sexting epidemic, kids are being counseled that forwarding a sext message to an unintended recipient is problematic on many levels. At its foundation is the broken trust between a sender and the initial recipient. But there are countless examples of people hurt by those actions. Considering legislation that would address forwarding a sext to an unintended recipient may take care of one problem but it doesn’t address the larger culture war.
If moral relativism is taken to its logical conclusion, we will have complete anarchy because anything goes and no one would have any right to judge another’s behavior. The founders recognized that they could not elevate one belief system over another and the US Constitution protects our individual rights up to the point that they impose on another individual’s rights, in order to maintain a balance of rights.
It is between Anthony Weiner and his constituents as to what happens next. But someone who holds public office should have better judgment and maintain the trust of his constituents.
Nancy Salvato is the President and Director of Education and the Constitutional Literacy Program for Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to re-introduce the American public to the basic elements of our constitutional heritage while providing non-partisan, fact-based information on relevant socio-political issues important to our country. She also serves as a Senior Editor for The New Media Journal.